Author: Steve Colling, Corps Historian

Our Death in Service Database is maintained here at the REME Museum in Lyneham. It records the members of the Corps who died in the Second World War and those who lost their lives whilst serving in the years since. In 2022, we embarked on a new project to improve our records by asking you, the public, to help us collect images of all REME headstones and memorials around the world.

While we have made some progress in gathering these images, it has become clear just how little we know about many of those who died whilst serving in REME. This blog will dive into the research process our Corps Historian embarks on to ensure we know as much as possible about those who gave their lives while serving in the Corps.

106839 Colonel Alfred Ernest Dyson REME

A starting point

Ken Williams, formerly REME Artificer Sergeant Major (ASM), recently submitted the image below of Colonel (Col) Alfred Ernest Dyson's headstone. I thought I'd try and find out who he was...

Above: White marbled headstone with engravings. Below: Typed paper extract, detailing Col Dyson.

Images: Col Dyson's headstone at Hove Cemetery and the corresponding Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) registration information. © CWGC.

The CWGC website provides basic detail to get started. In addition to number, rank, name and age, it names his wife and parents. Dyson died aged 56, so was born in 1889 and probably served in the Great War when he was in his twenties. A search on The National Archives (TNA) website came up with several likely candidates but there are many A E Dysons and, of course, none served in REME.

Next stop, the Army List for April 1943. There are two entries for A E Dyson; one dates his commission on 6 January 1919, appointed War Substantive Lt Col on 28 December 1941 and Temporary Colonel on the same date. The second entry places him in Leicester as Officer in Charge at the REME Records Office. We suspect he was the first to hold the appointment! Craftsman of the Army: Volume 1 notes the split of the REME Records office from that of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) but makes no mention of the REME Officer Commanding.

Sadly, our Archives at Lyneham has a few gaps in its collection of Army Lists covering the Second World War, but we do have one dated July 1940. It places Captain, Acting Major A E Dyson in the Regular Army Reserve of Officers (RARO) on the Deputy Assistant Adjutant and Quarter Master General's (DAA & QMG) staff from 12 September 1939 (probably in London).

Alfred won't be listed in the 1939 Register as we know he was serving in the Army (RARO) from 12 September (the Registration lists all civilians as of 28 September 1939).

Family Life

The CWGC website names Alfred’s wife and with access to online subscription records it is possible to find the year of marriage. Alfred married Frances K V Goodland in Christchurch in 1920.

Typed form with handwritten details.

The Marriage Certificate of Alfred and Frances Dyson. © Crown, OGL. Source: Fold3 and Ancestry.

Black and white photo of a group of people in suits and dresses, in centre bride in white wedding dress and groom in army uniform.

A photo from Alfred and Frances’ wedding day, Alfred wearing his uniform with medal ribbon. © Pete Norton. Source: Ancestry.

At the time of marriage, Alfred held a commission in the Corps of Military Accountants (responsible for handling financial matters from November 1919 – July 1925, many personnel transferring to the Royal Army Pay Corps (RAPC) on its disbandment). Alfred’s father, Samuel is recorded as an Engineer.

The family are listed in the 1921 Census for England and Wales, which was recently made available to the public. Alfred, Frances and their three-month-old daughter, Mary Constance (born in Pembroke, 1921), were visiting his parents at Prescot, Lancashire. Captain Dyson is described as a Group Accountant Officer in the Army. The parents’ names are as stated on the CWGC website so we can confirm this is the right family.

Document with a table containing handwritten details.

The 1921 Census Registration for the Dyson family. © Crown, OGL. Source: Findmypast.

The 1911 Census for England and Wales placed Alfred aged 22 in Huyton, Lancashire, living with parents and working as a Chartered Accountants Article Clerk.

First World War Service

Returning to the TNA website, another search revealed a match amongst Great War medal cards. 106839 A E Dyson, Machine Gun Corps commissioned to the Tanks (Tank Corps) on 30 November 1917 – the personal number on the card is as listed on the CWGC website. The image of the card does not show a medal entitlement, and the TNA scan does not show the reverse of the Medal Card.

A card with red printed form boxes, handwritten details read DYSON AE, MG Corps and 106839.

Alfred Ernest Dyson’s Medal Card. © Crown, OGL. Source: TNA and Fold3.

According to the Imperial War Museum website, the following criteria for Great War medals was required:

1914 Star – issued to British forces who had served in France or Belgium from 5 August 1914 (the declaration of war) to midnight 22 November 1914 (the end of the First Battle of Ypres).

1914-15 Star – issued to a much wider range of recipients. These included all who served in any theatre of war outside the UK between 5 August 1914 and 31 December 1915, except those eligible for the 1914 Star.

Neither the 1914 Star nor the 1914-15 Star were awarded alone. The recipient would also have received the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

British War Medal 1914-20 – This silver medal was awarded to officers and men of the British and Imperial Forces who either entered a theatre of war (an area of active fighting) or served overseas (perhaps as a garrison soldier) between 5 August 1914 and 11 November 1918 inclusive.

Victory Medal 1914-19 – To qualify, an individual had to have entered a theatre of war (an area of active fighting), not just served overseas. Their service number, rank, name and unit were impressed on the rim.

The Army List for November 1918 lists Second Lieutenant A E Dyson with the date of commission in the Tank Corps as 28 November 1917. So we can assume Dyson did not serve overseas during the Great War.

A miscellaneous record suggests that Alfred Ernest Dyson was a member of Manchester University Officer Training Corps (OTC) and the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI) before joining the Tank Corps. The Archivist at the University Archive Centre was able to clarify his membership:

It appears that Alfred Ernest Dyson was not a graduate of this University. He was however a member of the Manchester University OTC before 1914. Young, professional men were eligible for membership, along with those studying at the University.  This would fit with the fact that he was training to be an accountant – very few members of that profession were graduates in the pre-1914 period.
As a member of the MUOTC, he is therefore recorded in the University's roll of service.

The connection with the KSLI remains a bit of a mystery.

The London Gazette is online. A search for 'Alfred Ernest Dyson' between 1914 and 1947 produced a large number of results, most of which have no bearing. However, the Supplement published on 11 December 1917 records his commissioning into the Tank Corps on 28 November 1917. A second entry dated 30 January 1920 records his transfer to the Corps of Military Accountants in the rank of Captain.

So Alfred joined the Army in the Great War. He may have served with the KSLI, before transferring to the Machine Gun Corps (MGC)*. He commissioned into the Tank Corps in 1917. But this date is at variance with the one given in the Army List for 1940 (et seq).

*The Tank Detachment of the MGC was formed in late 1916/early 1917. Its name changed first to the Armoured Car Section of the Motor Machine Gun Service then the Heavy section, Machine Gun Corps, before changing to Tank Corps in June 1917. The new arm was born in Siberia Camp, Bisley.

The gradation list (an Army list of all serving Officers by rank, including promotion dates up to the current rank) shows his appointment as a Temporary Second Lieutenant (2Lt) on 28 November 1917 and Substantive Captain (Capt) from 19 November 1919 on appointment as an Accounting Officer 4th Class. It also provides us with his date of birth – 24 March 1889.

Extract of a document, typed.

The Gradation List for 1922.

Between the Wars

An Army List for July 1921 places Captain Dyson in Shrewsbury, county town of Shropshire, with clear links to the KSLI. The List for January – February 1924 places him in Chester and two years later in Egypt, but there are no further entries in the Army Lists until October 1939. It seems likely that Captain Dyson left the Army in 1925 after his tour in Egypt.

There is very little data available online covering the 1920’s and 30’s. The 1931 Census was destroyed by fire in 1942, hence the 1939 Registration is a key resource for historians.

World War Two

From 1938, Electoral Records put Alfred and Frances at 11 Melrose Place, Portslade-by-Sea. Francis was there for the 1939 Registration and throughout the war years.

The RAOC Gazette published REME articles from the Corps’ formation in 1942 until 1947. REME units submitted articles but there is nothing from the REME Records Office. However, there is a death notice recording Col (Retd) A E Dyson, late Officer i/c REME Records, on 30 August 1945. This is confirmed by a probate record, recording the same date of death and address, with Frances Dyson his widow.

It looks as though Alfred retired before the war ended, possibly on his 55th birthday on 24 March 1944. A retirement should be listed in the London Gazette and a focussed search tracked it down:

Extract of a typed document listing names entitled supplement to the London Gazette 29 December 1944

The London Gazette Supplement 36861, 29 December 1944, Page 5937. © Crown, OGL.

The Gazette entry makes no connection between Col Dyson and REME. He is listed under the heading Regular Army Reserve of Officers, General List, Miscellaneous. He retired on 15 December 1944.

During the Second World War, it would appear that Alfred served solely in the UK. He would therefore have been entitled to the Defence Medal and War Medal.

Most of the founder members of the Corps came from the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC), the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) or Royal Engineers (RE), but Dyson is unusual coming from a non-engineering background. However, as head of the REME Records Office, he had influence over the manning and the employment of all REME tradesmen from 1942 until his retirement in December 1944.

A grey stone wall panel with names engraved

Image: A close-up view of Panel 19, Column 3 of Brookwood Memorial on which Dyson’s name is engraved. © Retired QA, Find a Grave.

Alfred is buried at Hove Cemetery, but strangely his name also appears on the Brookwood 1939-45 Memorial. The CWGC website makes no connection between Dyson and the Brookwood 1939-45 Memorial. A note on their website suggests only those with no known grave are listed but the image below clearly shows Dyson's name. The image from Find a Grave lists several members of REME including Captain Coffin. Checking with the CWGC website confirms Coffin’s place on the Memorial. If anyone can suggest why this scenario has occurred, we would be happy to hear from you!

The REME Museum and Archives was established in 1958 in Arborfield. It has gathered documents and artefacts over the years and has much originating from the Second World War. However, there are any many gaps in our collection and knowledge. Research, 80 years after the war, is challenging. 80 years from now, my successor and the team at the Museum will have different challenges, not least accessing digital data. Please keep the REME Museum in mind if you’re leaving the Army or downsizing and clearing the attic! Those group photos (especially the ones with names on) and other military memorabilia may hold the key to unravelling part of the Corps’ history. Find out more information about donating items to the Museum’s Collection.